Utes focus on defense

A popular saying in team sports is “defense wins games.” Another well-known phrase is “the best offense is a good defense.” For Women’s Soccer, that saying might be taken more literally.

The way the Utes’ formation and strategy is set up allows the outside backs to join the attack on the opposition. This gives Utah two extra attacking players who can play in crosses and take the occasional shot and allows the remaining players on the Utah attack to rush in on crosses and rebound from shots.

“I love it,” said sophomore Audrey Gibb. “Some people look at it and they are like ‘Oh my gosh, I couldn’t run forever.’ I think it is so much fun. You get to defend and nothing is better than getting a shutout. But it’s also great to be a part of a goal-scoring opportunity.”

This season, the starting outside backs for the Utes have been Gibb and senior Sarah Duncan. They are joined by juniors Nykell Seymour and Megan Trabert, who are both starting central defenders.

“I think we have some of the best defenders that I have ever played with,” Gibb said. “Everyone across the back is really experienced, really calm, level-headed and is able to step into a game regardless of what type of game it is. We are an extremely cohesive unit. Throughout everything, everyone contributes.”

Duncan is playing in her fourth year for the Utes. Last season as a junior, she was named a second team Pac-12 All-Academic selection. Seymour is one of the few girls on the team not originally from Utah, and she has stepped up this year and filled the center back position due to injuries sustained by other players. Trabert has been a starter since her freshman season. In 2013, she was also named a second team Pac-12 selection.

This season is Gibb’s first with the team. Right away she felt welcome, partly because Gibb is originally from Utah, as well as the majority of the team. Prior to Utah, Gibb played for Pac-12 rivals Oregon State, where she played in 16 games.

“As soon as I came here in January the team opened their arms and welcomed me right in,” Gibb said. “I couldn’t ask to be with a better group of girls. They’re absolutely incredible.”

A common idea is to put the big strong players at defense because it is a position that doesn’t take as much skill as other positions might. Gibb has a different view of the position she plays.

“Definitely [need] a calm, level head,” Gibb said. “Because as a defender you’re the last line. In big moments and big games, you can’t afford to lose your calm.”

Utah’s defense last year was one of its strengths, according to head coach Rich Manning. This was in part because of then juniors Monica Larsen and Jill Robison. Both Larsen and Robison were sidelined at the start of this season due to injuries. However, Robison was able to see some playing time against BYU last weekend. Even with the injuries, Manning has kept his hopes high.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised that we didn’t miss a beat,” Manning said. “It went from ‘Wow, we have a lot of people coming back, we’ll do great,’ to ‘Oh, we are missing some pieces, what’s going to happen,’ to thinking ‘this is a definite strength of the team.’ Credit to all the players involved.”

With players stepping up and how the defense has looked so far this season, Manning has no problem trusting his back line.

“We have confidence that we can keep the best teams out of the net,” Manning said. “Also that our defenders can help start the attack.”

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